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The Burning Man Survival Guide: What They Don’t Say

Updated: Aug 15, 2018 09:51
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This doesn’t qualify as a dust storm.


The Stuff Not Mentioned…

If you’ve been to Burning Man a few times already, you probably don’t even bother reading the survival guide any more. You are already familiar with the desert and what to expect, pretty much. If you are going for the first time, the survival guide is highly recommended reading.

However, in my opinion, the survival guide doesn’t go quite far enough. For example, it talks about dust storms and what to do when one comes up. People who have gone in recent years, when there have been more people at the desert, say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been through dust storms.” But in fact, what you see as a dust storm is what happens when many tens of thousands of cars, trucks, art cars, motor homes, bicycles, and human feet pulverize the cracked hard surface of the desert, turning it into highly alkaline beach sand, and a little wind comes up. It’s like a constant, low-grade, human-induced dust storm now.

A serious dust storm is something else, a complete whiteout that can last for hours. In all the years I’ve gone to Burning Man, I’ve been through one bona fide killer dust storm. It happened the third year, right after the burn. Everyone, of course, was far from camp when it started, and you couldn’t see six inches in front of you once it began. In those days, it wasn’t a good idea to just sit down on the desert floor and cover yourself with something, because people still drove, and we did see headlights penetrating the dust-filled air that year. Trying to drive in that weather was idiocy, but people didn’t know what to do and they panicked.

The rest of us groped our way to shelter blind. If we ran into anything that felt like a tent, we felt our way along until we found a flap. If we bumped into something that felt like a car, we groped our way along the side, until we found a door, and got in. I found a car that year, got in, and found three other people in it. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “Is this your car?”

Everyone said no, it wasn’t their car. And the four of us sat through the storm, had a great time, and then spent the rest of the night inseparable.

This is how you know you’ve been through a real dust storm. When it’s over, everyone’s hair is standing straight up, from the static electricity, like they stuck a finger in an electrical outlet. And this is how you can be a model Burning Man community member: leave your car doors unlocked. No one is going to steal your car, and someone may really, really need to get in.

I have heard rumors that this year at the desert is going to be wet. Rain at the desert is no joke. While it has the pleasant effect of getting all that dust out of the air, it does turn the playa into a raging torrent of mud. The very worst thing that can happen is that your vehicle will sink in the mud and get stuck there when it dries. But the second worst thing, which happens to everyone, is your screwed up footgear: Playa Platforms.

People who’ve come back from Burning Man know how hard it is to get playa dust off of anything. But if you are walking through playa mud, there is literally no way to get it off the bottoms of your shoes entirely. It dries and hardens quickly, like concrete. You suddenly become taller. But the problem is that your Playa Platforms are not of equal height, or even completely flat on the bottom. You end up walking around with one leg invariably longer than the other, and after a while, your hips are in excruciating pain.

You might consider bringing plastic bags to wrap around your boots, and you should definitely bring several pairs. You only have to experience the Playa Platform effect once to know that this is a really good idea. Taking off your boots and walking in the mud is an absolutely terrible idea. The mud is so alkaline it will eat your feet, and it’s one of those things you don’t really want to learn from experience.

There may be a wet year at the Black Rock this year, and in a lot of ways, that sucks. But on the other hand, the lighting storms are sensational.


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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.


  1. lisa c
    August 20, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Along with the swarms of bugs this sounds like a complete blast! 8 O

    August 20, 2015 at 11:07 am

    This is what happens when a gaggle of unbathed,drug addicted,immoral liberal parasites gather!